William and Mary Student Elected to Williamsburg City Council

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You’ve read about this movement before here.

And now, it’s taken another step forward.

After a failed student campaign a year ago, William and Mary students put together an organization called Students for a Better Williamsburg (SBW), an organization engaging local government in order to provide the best outcomes for students. This effort led to the amendment of a housing ordinance, making it more student friendly and eliminating an issue that divided the town and gown factions in the community for years.

This past spring, a student ran for a Williamsburg city council seat once more. Last Tuesday night, Scott Foster, a graduating senior, dominated the contest.

Foster was elected to the Williamsburg City Council on Tuesday night, becoming the first William & Mary student ever to do so. The 22-year-old said his win was a victory for town and gown relationships.

“Today, the people of Williamsburg demonstrated that our city is truly unified,” Foster said Tuesday night. “When I decided to run for City Council, I hoped to receive the student vote. Now, I have been additionally honored and humbled to have received such strong support from across our City.”

Foster received 1559 votes in the election, 741 more votes than the next finisher, Planning Commission Chairman Doug Pons, who also earned a seat on the council Tuesday night. Five candidates, including one incumbent, ran for the two open positions. According to Foster’s campaign, approximately 67 percent of his votes came from students and the remaining votes came from residents.

Over 1000 William and Mary students voted for their fellow student in the election, ensuring that college students will have a strong voice in the city’s government. Between this victory and the aforementioned organization of Students for a Better Williamsburg, William and Mary students have provided students across the country with a model for organizing within the system to produce positive outcomes.

How did Foster do it? Well, in textbook Millennial fashion. Foster used online social networking to spread the news, and then benefited from a student-coordinated voter registration and GOTV effort on William and Mary’s campus.

Foster benefited from a coordinated get-out-the-vote campaign by William & Mary students. Earlier this year, student organizations, including the Student Assembly, worked to encourage students to vote in the election through a series of registration efforts. Approximately 300 students registered this year as a result of the drive. More than 2,100 students are registered to vote in the City of Williamsburg and early estimates indicate that roughly 50 percent of registered students voted in Tuesday’s election.

On election day, the Student Assembly provided transportation for students between the Sadler Center and the Stryker Building voting location. Sarah Rojas ‘10, outgoing president of the assembly, also sent an e-mail to the College’s students, encouraging them to vote in the election.

[…]

Much of Foster’s campaign was run by students who utilized a website and social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. Foster also spent a good deal of time meeting city residents.

After his upcoming graduation, Foster plans to continue his studies at William and Mary in 2011, attending the William and Mary Law School.

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NAFSA Names Winner in Student Diplomat Video Contest

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NAFSA announced this week that it has named a winner in its Student Diplomat Video Contest. Here’s the release:

Winner Named in Student Diplomat Video Contest

Study Abroad Experience Inspires a Recent Graduate to Help Local Youth Think Globally

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2010 – NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Abroad View Foundation are pleased to announce Nicole Barrasse, a recent graduate of Keystone College in Pennsylvania, as the winner of the 2009 Student Diplomat Video Contest. During the fall semester, NAFSA and Abroad View watched as students from across the country showed us how their educational experiences abroad shaped them as global citizens, served as bridges to cross-cultural understanding, promoted peace, or positively impacted the local communities in which they studied. After reviewing dozens of entries and narrowing those down to five finalists, we asked the public to vote. More than 1,300 votes were cast and combined with the votes from an expert panel of judges to select the 2009 Student Diplomat.

Nicole’s video tells an inspiring story of cultural understanding and global connections as she gives us a glimpse into her study abroad experience in the small agricultural village of Ladakh, India. Nicole stayed with a host family in the village and spent her days farming and learning the local language and culture. The cultural understanding that Nicole developed through this experience not only allowed her to learn about the Ladakhi people, but also to communicate to them how much she appreciated their culture and way of life.

Nicole came away from this experience not only knowing much more about sustainable farming and the Ladakhi culture, but also understanding what it means to be a citizen of the world. “Ladakh has not only taught me life lessons, but also what it truly means to be connected to the world around you,” she says in her video.

Nicole is now home in Pennsylvania and plans to start a local effort to inspire youth in her community to think more globally.

The Student Diplomat Video Contest was open to undergraduate students who studied abroad during the fall semester or had recently returned from a study abroad experience. Entrants were asked to focus their short videos on how their study abroad experience helped to advance global understanding. In addition to being named the 2009 Student Diplomat, Nicole will be awarded a cash prize of $300.

To read more about the 2009 Student Diplomat, or to watch her video, visit http://www.nafsa.org/studentdiplomat.

Here is Nicole’s video:

Ravenstahl Backs off on Student Tax

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In a reversal, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl requested that the Pittsburgh City Council cancel the vote on his proposed tax on Pittsburgh college students. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has asked city council to shelve his proposed tuition tax, saying instead that a broad-based “New Pittsburgh Coalition” will work to solve the city’s pension problem.

The mayor is willing to cancel the tuition tax vote that could have occurred today in spite of the fact that he can’t claim to have landed the $15 million-a-year needed to right the pension fund, nor the $5 million compromise demand he made earlier this month. “This is a leap of faith for all of us,” he conceded, but if successful, it will bring the needed funds — hopefully in time for the 2011 budget, when the city will otherwise face a dire fiscal situation.

For students who were already facing skyrocketing tuition and textbook prices, this tax would have been one more obstacle to gaining access to a college education.

For Ravenstahl’s part, this is a political loss (despite it being a good decision) based on his push for this and his subsequent walk-back. He did not manage to secure any additional funding for the city in exchange for retracting the idea, though he did get assurances from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon that they would increase their yearly donation to the city. Ravenstahl must hope, or in his words exhibit “good faith,” that these donations dent the budget deficit he must erase by 2011.

In the end, though, this is a good decision for the future of Pittsburgh’s college students and educational institutions.

Students for a Better Williamsburg Creating Change

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Remember the group of William and Mary students I wrote about a couple months ago who sought to better connect the student body with the community? They formed Students for a Better Williamsburg, an organization that seeks to engage local government in order to provide the best outcomes for students, and last week they already started to make change.

Until a week ago Thursday night, Williamsburg landlords were restricted by law from allowing more than three people to live in their properties. The consequences aren’t hard to imagine. Realistically, if college students want a fourth person to live in a house, they’re going to attempt it, which brings up the safety issue of not knowing who is in what residence. Furthermore, those houses with four or five bedrooms that by law can only hold three people lead to wasted space. Over 600 houses within Williamsburg contain four or five bedrooms. The three person rule was one of the main obstacles in the town-gown relationship between William and Mary and Williamsburg.

Students for a Better Williamsburg (SBW) and the Student Assembly, though, came together and negotiated with members of the city council. Both groups, working with Vice Mayor Clyde Haulman, crafted a compromise ordinance approved at the council meeting last Thursday, December 10. The ordinance can be viewed here.

The amended ordinance requires that properties within Williamsburg’s four rental inspection districts exceeding 2000 square feet be eligible to allow up to four unrelated tenants with city approval. The properties are also required to contain four parking spots for each tenant. In addition, the same requirements would be extended to B-3 business districts. Landlords would submit their properties to secure the approval of the city’s zoning administrator. Some 49 beds would be added — a minor change on paper — but it’s the start of a dialogue with the council that counts the most for students.

Michael Douglass, one of the co-founders of SBW, remarked upon the ironic contrast in behaviors between the opposed residents and the students supportive of the legislation in an e-mail. One of these residents, Bill Dell, a known opponent of the rule change, expressed unhappiness with the speedy process.

“You all have put things on the table that should be looked over,” resident Bill Dell said, interrupting the vote.

Yet in an August 19 article in the Flat Hat, William and Mary’s student newspaper, one of the planning commissioners remarked upon the need for community participation.

Commissioner Jim Joseph seemed concerned that the community be given ample opportunity to speak.

“We need the participation, yet when the opportunity comes the participation’s not there, and therefore we have to stress that,” he said. “This is a very sensitive issue with a lot of feelings on both sides, and I think we just have to push that as hard as we can to make sure people do participate.”

And in the end, the students were the ones participating with an eye toward compromise.

SBW and the William and Mary Student Assembly demonstrated what can happen with some collaboration and a will to get things done. This is a fantastic example of our brand of youth activism, identifying a need and working the proper channels in a good-faith effort to make change. Yes, things do not always work this smoothly, but in this case, thanks to great leadership and hard work, it did.

Releases by SBW and William and Mary’s Student Assembly are available to read, and video of the council meeting can be viewed here.